I was inching closer to graduation, soon to receive a dual degree in Youth and Social Innovation and Psychology, when I started to experience constant anxiety surrounding my abilities to enter the workforce. There was a voice in my head convincing me that my academic successes were a fluke and that I was incapable of starting a lucrative career. While I had no evidence to defend this false narrative in my head, the persistent self-doubting feelings ignited in me created an ugly and vicious cycle. This was my first encounter with Imposter Syndrome.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter Syndrome is a very real experience of intellectual self-doubt — an overwhelming internal voice that's not fun or true. The experience can be described as feeling inadequate, incompetent, or like a fraud, despite objective success. Someone who is experiencing imposter syndrome might think that their achievements are attributed to luck rather than their abilities. It’s a struggle to internalize success and genuinely believe that you’re competent and capable. Imposter syndrome can also include:
- Berating your performance
- Attributing your success to external factors
- Fear that you won't live up to expectations
- Sabotaging your own success
- Setting very challenging goals and feeling disappointed when you fall short
The difference between Imposter feelings and Self-doubt
Imposter syndrome is not simply a lack of confidence because if it were, we would all have experienced imposter syndrome. The key distinction between imposter syndrome and self-doubt is the frequency and timing of the experience. During adolescence, for example, it is developmentally appropriate to experience bouts of self-doubt. On the other hand, if you are a capable adult feeling crippling self-doubt, you are likely experiencing Imposter Syndrome.
Key questions to ask yourself are: Are these feelings incessant and on-going? Or, is this a situational, short-lived experience? Imposter syndrome is characterized by on-going self-doubt, self-sabotaging behaviors, and negative thoughts, which can have an effect on many aspects of your personal and professional life.
Understanding the Roots of Imposter Syndrome
It is estimated that around 70% of people will experience imposter syndrome at least once in their lifetime. There are several root causes for this high prevalence. If you are a woman or non-binary gender, a person of color, or an underrepresented minority group, you can be more susceptible to experiencing imposter syndrome. An important contributing factor for this is not seeing those similar to you represented in these places you're working toward and in higher, senior roles. If you come from a family that places high value on achievement, or if you have a parent who flips between praise and criticism, you can also be more likely to experience Imposter Syndrome. This is important to reiterate as these internalized feelings of self-doubt have both internal and external factors at play. Self-talk isn't the only thing that can be tweaked when working to minimize the imposter voice. We can also further understand the roots and recognize the societal and cultural causes of Imposter Syndrome.
What you can do to Quiet the Imposter Voice
While there are limits to what you can do about the external factors at play, there are things you can do to mitigate those that are internal. Notice how you are contributing to the cycle. Take a step back to notice the imposter voice and reframe it. Give yourself space; separate yourself, your identity, from the emotional experience. Here are a few tactics that I have used to quiet the false, imposter voice:
- Recognize the imposter voice.
- Speak about it.
- Track and measure your success.
- Stop comparing yourself.
- Practice confidence.
- Separate feelings from facts.
- Mindfulness practice.
- Self-compassion and using affirmations.
I want to share some affirmations that have helped me to fight off the imposter voice.
- I am unique. I have qualities that set me apart.
- My talents are valuable.
- I have worked really hard to get here.
- I am worthy of success, of accomplishment, of opportunities.
- I have so much to offer.
- I do not have to be perfect to be effective.
- There is nothing more I can do than to show up and be myself.